The power of small wins

What if you could set yourself up for success by doing one small thing every day? Would you try it? What do successful dog trainers know that many parents don’t?

Sometimes it’s not how you work, but how you play that sets you up for success. What if we could transfer what we learn from play to set us up for achieving bigger goals? Ask me how I went from getting a D in physics sophomore year, to completing a Ph.D. in engineering!

Dog trainers may know it as “clicker training” or positive reinforcement.

Dr. Daniel Amen, M.D., Change your Brain, Change your Life, calls it “noticing what you like, more than what you don’t like.”

Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism, calls it “the power of small wins.” 

It has the power to change your world for the better.

When you start small, make positive progress, then recognize and celebrate that progress –– small wins –– you set yourself up for success. By starting with small, digestible chunks, you build momentum and success that increases your motivation and belief that you can succeed. Motivation is linked to success! So set yourself up by planning successful experiences.

Don’t believe me? Skeptical? Check out the short dog tricks video of me with my golden retriever, Harry as a puppy (at the top).

We went on to win numerous dog agility and rally titles, and we learned from some of the best trainers in the world. Our daily routine included 5 to 15 minutes of training each morning, where Harry earned his kibble (in handfuls) as a reward for positive progress – sometimes very tiny incremental steps of progress for the trick or skill of the day. We both looked forward to our training sessions. They were fun!

What Harry was really learning was how to solve problems… without the fear of failure. Only positive progress is recognized and celebrated. Wrong is wonderful because you learn what doesn’t work, and that helps you figure out what does work faster. A major side benefit is the positive relationship forged through this process. That really helps when it counts and you’re under pressure to perform – like at an agility trial. In fact, I started using a simple trick, the “Hi Five”, before the start of every agility run. It connected us, and allowed us to start our run with a small win.

Want to learn more about the learning from failure and the power of celebrating your small wins (or personal Q’s)? 

Check out my blog article:

So how did I go from getting a D in physics to a Ph.D. in engineering? That D rocked my world. I didn’t know if I had what it took to succeed in engineering. I had to dig down deep and make a choice. 

When the rubber hit the road, it wasn’t the awards that I won for my high school physics project that helped me stay the course. It was all of the hobbies and creative design projects… the small wins … things that I dreamed up, problem-solved, and figured out on my own as an elementary school kid, creating stuff in my spare time in the summers, and later in junior high and high school that helped me stay the course. I knew that I was creative. I figured that I just had to learn a new medium.

I still had a lot of work to do to turn my grades around. But the first step was making the choice to try. That is the real power of small wins.

Until next time, stay safe!


Dr. Marsha Tufft

P.S. If you want to learn the science behind how catapults work, I’m breaking down my videos into smaller digestible chunks within the framework of a catapult game. Here’s the first catapult science video:

I’d love to hear what you think! Look for a new STEM video each week on my YouTube channel… and the build a cardboard catapult video in case you missed it!


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